In June 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that Cleveland's system of giving students vouchers to attend private or religious schools did not violate the constitutional separation of church and state. In this lesson, students listen to an audio file about school vouchers creating market competition for public schools in June 2002. Students will identify the story's major concepts and their supporting details using an interactive note-taker.


Choice, Competition, Cost/Benefit Analysis, Externalities, Incentive, Markets, Opportunity Cost


  • Identify the possible causes and effects of market competition in the school system and its impact on student learning.
  • Describe what competition is and what the advantages and disadvantages of competition are.


The debate between private education and public education is ongoing. The use of school vouchers increases market competition for public schools. In today's lesson, students learn the possible causes and effects of private school vouchers being available to students.uniform



 Teachers Note: It is important for teachers to familiarize themselves with the complex issues that surround school vouchers. Some of these issues are discussed amongst the various resources and can also be found at the National Education . A few of the issues to be considered are:

  • The cost of services that private schools do not provide

  • The accountability of private schools in relation to annual audits, budgets, teacher quality, curriculum and achievement data

  • Students excluded by voucher schools

  • Voucher schools stance on students attending religious services

  • No data regarding vouchers improvement of education

  • Why vouchers are slow to be adopted

  • Alternatives to the voucher system

  • Bearing the cost of school vouchers

  • Short term and long term variables that affect and change the competition

Activity 1

(Have students listen to the NPR audio file about 'School Vouchers'. As they listen they will complete an outline of important information contained in the story. Then they will use their outlines to answer both factual and evaluative questions about economic concepts addressed in the story.)

Give students the following instructions:

Listen to the NPR audio file about 'School Vouchers.'

While you are listening, use the Note-Taker to find supporting details for three main ideas. The three main ideas you will focus on today are: 


  • Public School Spending

  • Competition for Public Schools

  • Problems with School Vouchers

Additionally, as you listen to the segment, record any words which you don't know or which you think are important economic terms.

Then listen to the audio file again to gather additional supporting details and possible definitions of the vocabulary words using context clues; record them in your Note-Taker.

Finally, you will be asked a series of questions related to the story.

Marketplace Questions and Answers:


While using the Note-Taker, students will identify the following:

  • Public School Spending

  • Competition for Public Schools

  • Problems with School Vouchers

Below are questions that students will be asked in the Note-Taker:

Question 1: What could market competition force public schools to do? [correct answer is c]

a) Close
b) Become private
c) Change the way they spend money
d) Accept vouchers

Question 2: How would market competition positively affect public school education? [Possible answer: force schools to spend more on students and less on administration.]

Question 3: What is one criticism of public school spending? [correct answer is a]

a) They spend too much on administration.
b) They spend too much on new books and curricula.
c) They spend too much on sporting events.
d) They spend too much on individual students.

Question 4: Why do you think public schools spend money the way they do? [Possible answers: they are not completely in control of their schools; they need to negotiate with unions; they have curricular guidelines to follow, etc.]

Question 5: According to the news clip, why is the voucher system a long way off? [correct answer is d]

a) Lack of money
b) Lack of available private schools
c) The negative effects vouchers would have on poor schools
d) All of the above

Question 6: Why do you think somebody from the teachers' union would oppose a voucher system? [Possible answer: teachers' unions protect the interests of public school teachers.]

Activity 2

Give students the following scenario:

You've just been given a school voucher. Now you have to decide whether or not to use it. Visit the following websites for more information about why there is such controversy over vouchers:

Consider the following:

  • What are the immediate benefits of using this voucher?

  • What are the possible future benefits of using this voucher?

  • What are the possible negative effects of using this voucher?

  • Do you think you are a good candidate to receive a school voucher?

  • What would your public school need to change in order for you to choose to stay?

  • Do you think vouchers are fair for all students?

Students can work in small groups to think about the scenario. Have students record their ideas on paper. Students should consider each question as they think about the scenario.


Evaluation 1: Have students hand in their note-takers. Student work should reflect an understanding of school competition and the positive and negative effects a voucher system could have on the public school system.

Evaluation 2: Have students share their ideas from Activity 2 with classmates and have them turn in their recorded ideas. Student work should portray an understanding of how school vouchers might affect public schools and the possible effects a voucher system could have on their education. Student work should convey an opinion about vouchers based on what they have learned.


By the conclusion of this lesson, students should be able to identify at least three main causes and effects of market competition for public schools.


If time permits, a mock trial may be a great way to apply what the students have learned. They can have a debate over school vouchers in a fictitious school district and city.


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